Quartz countertops have become an increasingly popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects in recent years. Their sleek, modern aesthetic and reputation for durability make them a top choice for many homeowners. However, one common question that arises is: are quartz countertops actually plastic?
What is Quartz?
Quartz is a naturally occurring mineral that is found abundantly in the earth’s crust. It is composed of silicon and oxygen atoms and is one of the hardest minerals in nature. Quartz can be found in a variety of colors including white, grey, purple, pink, and black.
In its natural state, quartz crystals are transparent or translucent. They are used to make high-quality glass, optical instruments, and jewelry. However, natural quartz is too brittle to be used for countertops on its own.
Engineered Quartz Countertops
Engineered or manufactured quartz countertops are made from crushed quartz crystals that are combined with resins and pigments. The quartz powder makes up about 90-94% of the material while the rest consists of polymer resins that act as a binder.
Common brand names for engineered quartz include Silestone, Caesarstone, Cambria, and Vicostone. The resins allow the material to be molded into slabs that can be cut and finished into custom countertops.
Are Quartz Countertops Plastic?
The short answer is no, quartz countertops are not plastic. Although they contain some polymer resins, these make up only a small percentage of the overall composition. The bulk of the material – 90% or more – is crushed natural quartz.
The resins are important because they allow the quartz particles to be formed into a moldable and workable slab. However, quartz countertops perform differently than solid surface materials like Corian which are 100% acrylic or polyester polymers. They are also more durable, scratch-resistant, and heat-tolerant than plastic laminates.
So in summary:
- Quartz countertops contain some plastics in the form of binding resins
- But natural quartz makes up 90-95% of the overall material
- Therefore, quartz cannot be considered simply a “plastic” countertop
The high quartz content is what gives these countertops their hardness, durability, and visual appeal – characteristics not associated with plastic materials. So while not entirely natural stone, engineered quartz is definitely in a different category from laminate, solid surface, or other plastic-based countertops.
Why the Confusion?
If quartz countertops are not plastic, where does the misconception come from? There are a few reasons this confusion arises:
1. Marketing Terminology
Some quartz manufacturers have used vague marketing language, referring to their products as “resin” or “polyester” countertops. This makes it sound as if they are entirely plastic. In reality, the resins are a relatively small component. But the confusing terminology plants the idea that quartz is just a fancy plastic.
To the untrained eye, quartz can look very similar to recycled glass, solid surface, and high-end plastic laminates. The consistent coloring, glossy polish, and lack of veining can fool some consumers into thinking it is a 100% man-made material.
3. Lack of Knowledge
Since quartz came on the market fairly recently compared to natural stone, there is still some lack of understanding about what it is made of. The unfamiliarity leads some people to lump it together with solid plastics.
4. DIY Confusion
There are some plastic resins marketed to DIYers for creating homemade countertops that are confusingly labeled as “quartz.” These kits only contain crushed glass and polyester resins – no actual quartz. This adds to the misconception.
Why It Matters
It’s important to understand what quartz countertops are made of because it tells you a lot about their expected performance. Knowing that they contain over 90% quartz minerals means that they will be:
- Extremely hard and scratch-resistant
- Resilient against cracks and damage
- Heat and stain tolerant
- Less prone to etching than natural stone
- Non-porous and unlikely to harbor bacteria
- Mold/mildew resistant
These traits come from the properties of natural quartz. Plastic polymers on their own do not offer the same level of durability. Being able to separate fact from fiction helps ensure that homeowners choose the right material for their needs. It allows accurate comparison shopping between quartz brands and alternatives like granite or marble.
Quartz vs. Other Countertop Materials
To get a better grasp of how quartz differs from plastic-based competitors, here is a brief comparison:
Quartz vs. Solid Surface (Corian)
- Solid surface is 100% acrylic resin
- Prone to scratches, cuts, and heat damage
- Needs frequent re-polishing and sealing
- Limited color and pattern options
- Quartz is over 90% crushed stone
- Extremely hard and durable
- Maintains polish for years
- Huge variety of colors and patterns
Quartz vs. Laminate (Formica)
- Laminate is a plastic coating over particleboard or MDF
- Very prone to chipping, cuts, burns, and damage
- Seams are visible and likely to separate
- Few color options besides solid colors
- Quartz is a full slab of material through and through
- Withstands impact, heat, scratches better than laminate
- Seamless appearance
- Many unique patterns in addition to solids
Quartz vs. Recycled Glass
- Recycled glass contains crushed glass bound by plastic resins
- Not as hard or scratch-resistant as natural stone
- Quartz is around 90% natural stone
- Extremely resilient surface resistant to scratches
- Color/pattern consistency beats recycled glass
This comparison shows why understanding the composition of quartz is useful – it outperforms plastic-based competitors in nearly every regard. Knowing what quartz countertops are (and are not) made of can aid in making an informed decision when selecting your surface.
Caring for Quartz Countertops
The fact that quartz countertops are over 90% crushed stone does not make them indestructible. Although very durable, they still require some routine care and maintenance. Here are some tips for keeping quartz counters looking like new:
- Use coasters under glasses and avoid exposing the surface to harsh chemicals. Acids can etch quartz.
- Wipe up spills immediately to prevent stains from setting in.
- Clean with a mild soap and water. Avoid abrasive cleaners.
- Re-seal the surface once a year with a specially formulated quartz sealer.
- Avoid putting excessively hot items from oven or stove directly on the quartz. Use trivets.
- Have any chips or impact damage professionally repaired to prevent cracks from spreading.
With proper care, an engineered quartz countertop should maintain its beauty and performance for many years before needing replacement. Being durable does not make the material impervious to damage, so sensible care is still required.
Is Quartz Worth the Investment?
At the end of the day, engineered quartz counters are premium-priced kitchen and bathroom upgrades. Their average cost is $60-100 per square foot installed. This is comparable to natural stone like granite or marble.
That leads many homeowners to ask – is the investment worth it compared to cheaper options like tile, laminate, or DIY concrete? There are pros and cons to weigh when deciding if quartz fits your budget:
Pros of Choosing Quartz
- Extreme durability and scratch-resistance
- Requires very little maintenance
- Resilient to stains, etching, bacteria, and mold
- Consistent colors and patterns
- High-end luxury appearance
- Higher initial cost than some materials
- Limited number of manufacturers
- Lacks “natural” look of stone
- Needs occasional re-sealing
Overall, quartz delivers an unmatched combination of aesthetics and durability that can make the initial cost worthwhile for many homeowners. But it is not necessarily right for every budget or taste. Understanding whether the pros outweigh any cons depends on your needs.
Alternatives to Natural Stone
For those who like the look of marble or granite but not the required upkeep, engineered quartz delivers similar visual appeal without all the maintenance. However, quartz is not the only player in the “alternative stone” game these days. Some other options include:
Dekton: Made from crushed minerals, glass, and porcelain. Touted as harder and lower maintenance than quartz.
Sintered Stone: Made from natural stone fragments compressed with a binding agent to form a slab. Similar aesthetics to quartz.
Concrete: DIY-friendly, but prone to staining and etching without a protective sealer. Requires substantial polishing/sealing.
Tile: Durable and affordable, but can be prone to chips and cracks. Grout lines need frequent scrubbing.
Soapstone: A soft, porous metamorphic stone. Frequently oiled to achieve a silky, matte look.
Each material has pros and cons in terms of durability, maintenance, and cost. Quartz remains the best combination of form and function for most buyers. But new alternatives are expanding the non-porous countertop arena.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many consumers have follow-up questions when trying to understand the composition and performance attributes of quartz. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:
Is Quartz Completely Non-Porous?
It is about as close as you can get. The minimal resin content and density of quartz make it near-impervious to moisture or bacteria. This means it is very hygienic and unlikely to stain.
Can You Cut on Quartz Countertops?
Absolutely – this is one of quartz’s major advantages over softer stones. Its extreme durability means it stands up to cutting, prep work, and daily wear and tear. But use a cutting board to keep knives from dulling.
Does Quartz Need to be Sealed?
Sealing is not strictly required, but recommended once per year. Sealers formulated for quartz will keep the surface repelling stains even better. But quartz does not require frequent sealing like granite or marble.
Is Heat Bad for Quartz?
While heat/scorch-resistant, direct high heat can damage quartz. Always use trivets or hot pads and avoid putting extremely hot pans directly on the surface. Minor damage is usually just cosmetic.
How is Quartz vs. Corian?
Corian is a brand name for solid surface – a plastic/acrylic resin product. It lacks the hardness and scratch-resistance of quartz. Corian requires more frequent polishing and sealing to maintain its look.
What Makes Up the Other 5-10% of Quartz Besides Stone?
Pigments for colors, polymer resins that bind the material, and occasionally other fillers like recycled glass or shells. These extra ingredients give quartz its moldable and workable properties to create slabs.
While engineered quartz countertops do contain some plastic resins, they are OVERWHELMINGLY composed of natural crushed quartz crystals – generally over 90%. This high stone content gives quartz its unmatched combination of hardness, durability, and resistance to damage. Understandably, the man-made resins can cause confusion about the composition. But make no mistake – quartz counters are far from just plastic. Their blend of quartz minerals and engineering provides luxury appeal and performance with minimal maintenance required. For homeowners seeking an attractive, highly durable, and low maintenance surface, engineered quartz remains one of the best options on the market today.
Are Quartz Countertops Unhealthy?
Quartz countertops have risen to popularity in recent years, praised for their pleasing aesthetics, durability, and resistance to staining. However, some have raised health concerns about quartz and questioned whether these engineered stone slabs contain toxic substances. When choosing any material for your home, safety is obviously a top priority. So how healthy are quartz countertops really?
What’s in Quartz?
As outlined earlier, quartz countertops are composed mainly (over 90%) of crushed quartz mineral bound together by polymer resins. The resins differ between various manufacturers, but often include:
- Polyester resin
- Epoxy resin
- Acrylic resin
- Polyurethane resin
- Bisphenol-A (BPA)
The resins allow the crushed quartz to be molded into slabs and provide structural support. Other ingredients like recycled glass or shells may be included in small amounts.
Potential Health Concerns
The following aspects of quartz countertops’ composition have raised some health-related questions:
Resins: Concerns stem mainly from polyester and epoxy resins which can off-gas VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These emissions are highest when new, but dissipate over time.
BPA: Traces of Bisphenol-A are present in many quartz brands. BPA is an endocrine disruptor that can mimic hormones in the body.
Radon Gas: Natural granite/marble countertops are sometimes cited as minor radon sources. This leads some to worry quartz may also emit the radioactive gas.
Lung Silicosis: Silica dust produced when fabricating (cutting, polishing) quartz slabs is a lung hazard. But installed counters are not a respiratory danger.
So do these aspects mean quartz countertops are actually unhealthy for your home? Let’s examine further.
Are VOCs a Real Threat?
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) off-gassed by resins during initial curing are a potential concern. However, studies find that quartz VOC emissions reduce dramatically within the first few months after manufacturing.
By the time slabs are fabricated into counters for your home, VOC off-gassing is minimal to non-existent for most healthy individuals. Those with severe sensitivities or respiratory conditions should always exercise caution. But for most people, quartz VOCs present a very limited risk once installed.
Proper manufacturing techniques like vacuum-sealing slabs until installation further reduce any outgassing. Look for low-VOC certifications fromquartz brands for added assurance.
Is BPA Exposure a Worry?
Traces of Bisphenol-A are present in some quartz resins. However, research indicates the BPA is almost entirely within the material’s structure – not exposed on the surface.
Unless the counter was severely damaged, the BPA additives do not come in contact with food prep or living spaces. The amount of BPA tends to be orders of magnitude below safety limits as well.
While it makes sense to avoid unnecessary chemical exposures when possible, quartz BPA levels are very unlikely to pose a real health risk according to current evidence.
Is Radon in Quartz a Concern?
Radon in quartz counters is highly unlikely. Granite and other natural stones are sometimes cited as minor radon sources. But the manufacturing process of crushing and reforming the quartz crystals eliminates any potential radon gas being released.
There are no documented cases of quartz countertops testing positive for radon. Unless you have other radon sources in your home, quartz surfaces pose no risk on this front. Testing kits are available for extra assurance.
Silicosis Danger When Fabricating
This is the one real area of health concern – but only affects quartz manufacturing and fabrication workers, not homeowners.
Cutting and polishing uncured slabs produces dangerous silica dust which can cause lung damage and silicosis without proper respiratory protection. But once installed in your home, quartz counters are completely safe from a lung health perspective.
Bottom Line – Quartz is Safe for Home Use
Based on all available evidence from health organizations and researchers, installed quartz countertops pose negligible health risks in residential settings. Any VOC off-gassing or BPA exposure is orders of magnitude below dangerous levels.
And unlike natural stone, quartz does not harbor bacteria growth or release radon. Outside of fabrication/manufacturing settings, quartz presents no respiratory dangers from silica dust either.
While no material is 100% risk-free, quartz countertops meet the same health and safety standards as widely used surfaces like granite, marble, and tile once installed in the home. Proper sourcing and manufacturing help minimize any VOC off-gassing as well.
For most homeowners, quartz counters will provide a durable, hygienic, and safe surface solution for kitchens and bathrooms. As always, those with severe sensitivities or respiratory conditions may wish to exercise extra precautions when selecting any countertop materials.
Maximizing the Safety of Quartz Countertops
If you want to take extra steps to minimize potential quartz health impacts, here are some tips:
- Allow several weeks of curing/airing-out before installing new slabs
- Select low-VOC certified quartz options when available
- Use local suppliers for shorter manufacturing-to-install timelines
- Consider lighter quartz colors which require less resin content
- Avoid direct food contact with the counter surface
- Keep indoor air well-ventilated and use range hoods when cooking
- Have radon levels tested if concerned about other sources
With appropriate selection and reasonable household practices, quartz countertops provide a durable surface with minimal health risks. Focus your evaluation on practical factors like cost, maintenance, and aesthetics – not largely unfounded health fears.
Here are answers to some common questions about health concerns and quartz countertops:
Are quartz fumes dangerous?
Not for installed counters in homes. New slabs can off-gas VOCs but this dissipates quickly.
Can quartz make you sick?
Unlikely for residential use. Those with severe sensitivities should always exercise caution.
Is silicosis a concern?
Only for those cutting slabs – not in a home setting. Installed